It was the fifth set of Idaho’s second-to-last home game of the season against North Dakota. The score was tied at 7-7 when junior setter Meredith Coba jumped up to set the ball like she had done thousands of times before during her three-year career with the Vandal volleyball team.
This was when disaster struck in Memorial Gym.
As she came down, she landed awkwardly on another player’s foot and tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and Meniscus in her knee.
She also fractured a bone in her femur. It was bad, but it could have been much worse had the fracture in her femur been in a different spot. Because the fracture wasn’t on a weight bearing spot, Coba avoided an even worse injury.
“I was super lucky,” Coba said. “Moscow is such a tight-knit community, so when it happened it was a huge bummer. But for as frustrating as it can be, it is nice to know that I have people rooting for me.”
Along with the support from her teammates, family and the community, she also has coach Debbie Buchanan who has a background with knee injury recovery during her time as a USC Trojan in the early 1990s.
Buchanan said she told Coba to make sure she is going through all of the right steps and isn’t trying to come back too soon, but at the end of the day, she has to do what is best for her.
“She probably has the biggest challenge,” Buchanan said. “With me being in that situation sometimes it’s hard. You’re not a part of anything and you kind of feel a little left out, but she is still actively leading the team.”
Although Buchanan has a familiarity with knee reconstruction surgeries, advances in modern medicine have made the process easier for athletes. During the time Buchanan suffered her injuries, a torn ACL — let alone multiple torn ligaments — was a virtual death sentence for an athlete.
Now, this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many professional athletes who have fully recovered from similar surgeries and are performing at a high level. For an example of this look no further than the Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, who tore his ACL in 2008 and now has cemented himself as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history after his injury.
Despite the injury that ended her season early, her performance on the court was eye-popping. She averaged 11.07 assists-per-set, good for 26th nationally. This, along with 1,118 total assists, 55 blocks and 189 digs helped her earn first-team All-Big Sky honors in 2014.
Despite those gaudy numbers and honors and the ACL recovery, she isn’t done yet. Coba said she believes her senior season this fall will be her best yet.
“It is going really well,” Coba said of her recovery. “It took me awhile to get there mentally because it was pretty sad, but I’m doing great and I feel good … I’m ready to get back playing again.”
She said she is at every workout, but she can’t really do much right now. As her recovery continues to progress she will be able to do more and more until she is hopefully ready for fall camp in early August. Coba has recently got her new knee brace, which was another step in the long recovery process.
What originally jumpstarted her recovery was a trip back to her home town of Salem, Oregon. This was when she connected with a physical therapist who changed her entire recovery process.
“It sort of knocked me out of my routine obviously and kind of started a new routine,” Coba said. “It kind of got me thinking about different ways to train and how my body is going to be that much stronger.”
A season-ending injury is never a good thing, but it might end up helping out Coba in the long run.
“It slowed me down in about one second — my entire college career kind of took a turn,” Coba said. “Looking back on it, it is tough. It is a weird transition, but I think it will help my future … I think it will help me as a person and know that with a little perseverance you can get through anything.”
Should the recovery go as she hopes, she could play professionally in Europe next January. But if that doesn’t work out, she has thought about playing professional beach volleyball.
“Living life on a beach playing volleyball can’t be that bad of a life, right?” she said.
Joshua Gamez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org